It’s good to be the King.
I doní¢â‚¬â„¢t know what was more frightening í¢â‚¬” the runaway success of the absolutely bizarre, thoroughly Japanese and entirely addictive Katamari Damacy, or the size of the King of All Cosmosí¢â‚¬â„¢ package. Maybe a tie. But that means no one lost, and indeed, anyone who gave the ball a roll walked away a winner, eyes glazed over in a junkie haze as they stumbled down the street wondering how big of a ball they would need to roll up their own house. America, I didní¢â‚¬â„¢t know you had it in you.
And, most likely, neither did America. The fact that this weird little import captured the imagination of a gaming community often satisfied simply waiting for yet another sequel to the first-person shooter du jour made my heart leap with nerdy, critical pride. The only thing I loved more than Katamari Damacy was that so many other people loved it, too, and they werení¢â‚¬â„¢t all members of the mysterious í¢â‚¬ËœCasual Gamerí¢â‚¬â„¢ Illuminati.
But the big problem with a pleasant surprise is that it only happens once; unless flooded with dirty acid, a mind cannot be blown by the same thing twice. It can, however, be really psyched to fiddle with more Katamari, and so should be pretty happy to know thatí¢â‚¬â„¢s exactly what it gets in the anticipated follow-up, We Love Katamari. Though obviously not as fresh as its forbear, ití¢â‚¬â„¢s still part of the same family, and thus another member of gaming royalty.
Speaking of which, the sassy King of All Cosmos takes center stage. After the Prince cleaned up dadí¢â‚¬â„¢s mess by replacing the stars in the first game, the duo blew up like the Hilton sisters. Suddenly, fans the world over knew of the King and his amazing katamari. Never one to turn down a good compliment, the King has taken it upon himself í¢â‚¬” or rather, has placed it upon you í¢â‚¬” to do the bidding of your loyal fans by fulfilling their sundry katamari requests.
So is this art imitating life? You bet your sass it is. We Love Katamari can best be described as self-aware, poking fun at the unforeseen success of the original and using that as the backdrop for the whole shebang. Ití¢â‚¬â„¢s a far cry from the childlike innocence of the first game, though, and initially comes off as a bit presumptuous and over-the-top. Thankfully, this disappears once you start rolling through the wacky new story, a brilliant biographical journey through the harsh life of the King. The cut-scenes are flat-out hysterical, trumping the tale of the weird blockhead family from the first game in its creativity and production. The Kingí¢â‚¬â„¢s text-speech is perfectly insane, giving the mute giant more character than a thousand furry mascots combined. Namcoí¢â‚¬â„¢s localization team should win an Oscar. Anyone who claims that video games are not art needs to sit down with We Love Katamari for some serious reprogramming.
Although there hasní¢â‚¬â„¢t been a great deal of that in the sequel. The gameplay is mostly unchanged (if by some freak accident you never played the original, stop reading immediately, punch yourself in the back of the head, buy it, play it, and return to the review): you use the analog sticks to roll a katamari (translation: í¢â‚¬Å“clump of stuffí¢â‚¬?) around each level. The goal is to pick up as much stuff as you can, growing your katamari as quickly and efficiently as possible. Fans of the first game know how delightful the sheer act of rolling can be, and thatí¢â‚¬â„¢s been left largely untouched here.
In fact, the only new moves are two camera angles, one that gives you a í¢â‚¬Å“Royal Lookí¢â‚¬? at your katamari from on high and a í¢â‚¬Å“Miracle Eyeí¢â‚¬? that lets you zoom in from first-person. Neither is particularly helpful when it comes to the actual rolling, so expect to still rely on the dash roll and the quick turn for most of the dirty work. The one truly helpful tweak is the ability to see through walls blocking the field of vision, an issue that drew sharp criticism in the original. Some new ways to roll would have been nice, although Ií¢â‚¬â„¢m happy they didní¢â‚¬â„¢t try to re-invent the ball.
They completely redid the front end, though. Instead of careening around the galaxy trying to roll up stars, you meander about a serene meadow eventually crawling with Katamari fans making all sorts of demands, every one of which requires you, the Prince, to get rolling. Thereí¢â‚¬â„¢s roughly the same number of levels as before, though theyí¢â‚¬â„¢re notably larger and often more complex. One has you rolling around inside a school, which makes for some tricky wall navigation, while another has you rolling underwater with appropriately warped physics. Youí¢â‚¬â„¢ll help a sumo wrestler gain weight by awkwardly rolling his oblong body, take out some cars on a terrifically frantic, non-stop katamari racetrack, roll up rain clouds to ensure a sunny day for a class field trip and even show respect for the originator by building a katamari snowman. The settings are creative and lead to more varied rolling than the original, keeping the gameplay fresh despite the lack of new control options.
Adding more life is the fact that each level offers a couple variations. The first crack at a level always makes you roll for maximum size in the allotted time, but later on it works in reverse as you attempt to reach a certain size in the shortest possible time. Different starting spots and slight tweaks to the levels help differentiate the modes, giving the game a bit more play value than before.
Marginally, at least. We Love Katamari is still a relatively short game and most of it should be a cakewalk for the hardcore fans the game is clearly aimed at. Of course, the real pleasure is found in obsessively rolling up everything in sight, not beating each level.
Thereí¢â‚¬â„¢s also an impetus to find all of the Princeí¢â‚¬â„¢s hidden cousins, who become instantly playable once captured. The differences are purely cosmetic but genuinely cool, showing off yet another facet of the gameí¢â‚¬â„¢s charm. Also, they can all be used in the gameí¢â‚¬â„¢s two multiplayer modes.
The VS. mode from the first game makes a return, albeit a bit more polished. You can now choose from one of three levels and your task isní¢â‚¬â„¢t just to roll bigger than your opponent, but to capture a specific kind of item. The quest for a decreasing resource turns it into a more competitive game, with players taking turns ramming into one another to knock loose some goodies. Unfortunately, ití¢â‚¬â„¢s still just a diversion and never matches the fun of rolling alone.
And ití¢â‚¬â„¢s a helluva lot better than the crummy new Co-op mode, or as we like to call it at GR, í¢â‚¬Å“Break-upí¢â‚¬? mode. Here one player controls the left stick while the other controls the right, requiring a near-telepathic level of communication to get anything done without screaming. Your dreams of playing Katamari with your girlfriend should remain in your head, because this is a surefire way to end your love affair with both her and the game.
Instead of such a poorly-planned exercise in irritation, the designers should have read my last review and added a Sandbox mode. Who wouldní¢â‚¬â„¢t love to start off as a pebble and grow into a rainbow-munching force of nature in an epic, half-hour roll of doom? Even on the biggest level, you start off at a hefty 1 meter. Considering the complexity of the tech powering this bad boy, you know ití¢â‚¬â„¢s conceivable.
Alas, like much of We Love Katamari, the graphics havení¢â‚¬â„¢t changed a great deal either. The kitschy, absurd art style permeates every inch of the game, from the hordes and hordes of weird items to the goofy presents hidden on each level (a giraffe head, yo.) Considering the game features a gigantic ball as its star, ití¢â‚¬â„¢s ironic that there are no rounded edges anywhere í¢â‚¬” expect right angles galore as the game reprises its obsession with block art. Though the technology is still as wildly impressive as ever, the game feels a little dated in its textures. Whatever, no biggie.
But the music is. Ití¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to imagine a soundtrack better than the one from the original game, but they somehow avoid the sophomore slump with another blistering array of totally kickass songs. Youí¢â‚¬â„¢ll hear multiple remixes of the incredibly catchy title track, but this is much more than just a musical rehash. Once again, the tunes will lodge themselves in your head, weighing down the í¢â‚¬Ëœrepeatí¢â‚¬â„¢ button until you find yourself unable to operate outside the bounds of a Katamari melody. The King again speaks in a record scratch, the children again shriek unceremoniously as theyí¢â‚¬â„¢re rolled away, and the land still burps a satisfying í¢â‚¬Å“popí¢â‚¬? as it merges with your ball.
Thatí¢â‚¬â„¢s also the sound your ass will make when you remove it from the couch, because despite being the second of its kind, We Love Katamari is just as addictive as its crackhead father. Like any good drug, the entry fee has gone up (to $30, still fairly cheap), but you doní¢â‚¬â„¢t get any significant gameplay additions for that. Instead, you get another mellow jaunt through one of the two weirdest and entertaining games released for the PS2. Thatí¢â‚¬â„¢s well worth an audience with the King, bigger package and all.